Guest ColumnistsMark TownsendSports

MAYO YOU NEVER: So Close and yet so far away

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By Mark Townsend

Picture the scene.  Late night. Hollywood. It’s a dimly lit smoky room with coffee cups and pieces of paper strewn all over the place.Two old and weary screenwriters are working together on a jaded sports film script. It’s entitled “Mayo you never”. They’ve been working long and hard at it and they’ve come up with some good stuff: curses, priests… But it’s late at night, they’re tired and, understandably, they’re running low on ideas.

Screenwriter 1: “Ok we’ve done this every which way. We’ve had them losing in finals by getting thrashed, losing by a point, losing from the front, losing after a mass brawl, losing after missing a load of chances. We need something new”

(pregnant pause)

Screenwriter 1: (blows out cheeks) Anything?
Screenwriter 2:”Well…. What if they started scoring own goals?
Screenwriter 1 (incredulous)”Own goals? In Gaelic football?!!!”
Screenwriter 2: “Why not?”
Screenwriter 1: “Oh come on, who the hell is going to believe that?”
Screenwriter 2: “Well, you got a better idea?”
Screenwriter 1: (sighs) “Ok…(typing) Mayo defender scores own goal and (rolls eyes) Mayo lose match…”
Screenwriter 2: “Make it 2”
Screenwriter 1: “What? 2 own goals?In one match?!!!”
Screenwriter 2: “Yeah.
Screenwriter 1: (raises eyebrows)
Screenwriter 2: Oh, and make it so that the first match is a draw. Trust me. (winking) It’ll work better this way”
They’re a parody aren’t they? A walking embodiment of what a downtrodden, out of luck character, is supposed to be. The guy that couldn’t get pissed in a brewery. The guy who wouldn’t lose his virginity in a brothel. George Costanza from Seinfeld. Frank Grimes from the Simpsons. Biff Lohman from Death of a Salesman. Mayo, Mayo, god help us, can’t you catch a break?
“Ah but didn’t they play great though…they showed a lot of character….they have the beating of them” and yeah, yeah, we know that but at the same time did you see Cillian O’Connor walking up the steps at the end to collect the canister? Because I sure as hell didn’t.
I watched in shock and awe at the intensity of Mayo’s tackling and their fitness on Sunday. I admired their resilience to come back at the start of the second half. I gaped in wonder at Cillian O’Connor putting over that final, equalizing point. I saw all of that and I still couldn’t shake the feeling that these guys are losers. Not intentionally obviously. They’re not that way because of lack of effort. They’re the James Brown of the GAA, the hardest working men in it. And don’t tell me they’ll win because they have the hunger, because I know they are ravenous. They’re a crowd of starving children running after a bread van in a famine. But if you can’t win an All-Ireland after playing so well, when can you win one?
Mikey Conway was being interviewed on Second Captains last week and was asked as to why the build up seemed to be so subdued in Mayo this year. He opined that because Mayo were so accustomed to losing in finals, perhaps their fans didn’t have the heart to be optimistic anymore. So rather than once bitten, twice shy, for Mayo it’s a case of seven times bitten, eighth time shy. It’s the hope that’s the killer. So rather than burst the balloon, it’s better to travel without one.
But what will happen now? All those Mayo fans who were so beaten down prior to now, will look at that game and say “Jaysus lads, we can win this the next day” and out comes the bunting and the flags again. No, no guys….don’t act like you’re going to win. That’s what they want you to think! You’ve got to wait in the long grass. But you’re all whooping and hollering there so everyone can hear you.
Mayo went all season without delivering one single, outstanding performance and yet they got to an All-Ireland final. If that was Kerry, people would be saying it was because they were crafty, they could win without extending themselves. Because it’s Mayo though, they were past it. They were gone. So everyone thought they were going to get hammered on Sunday, because they were no longer capable of producing a big performance.
But now they have given that display. Which, in a way, is great. It’s vindication that they’re not a beaten docket. But now they have to do it again in a fortnight. And that’s never easy, because your most difficult game is often the one after your best. And not only that, the Dubs know them now.
There was part of me that sensed maybe Dublin were a bit complacent going into this final. And really, could you blame them? Like Alex Ferguson used to say to his Man United players “Lads, it’s Tottenham”; Jim Gavin could have walked into the dressing room last Sunday and said “Lads, It’s Mayo”. That’s what they may have been thinking. Everybody else was. But now Dublin know the ferocity and intensity of the pitch that Mayo will be at. So rather than being “ambushed”, as they nearly were on Sunday, they’re battle hardened.
So Mayo were great on Sunday and deserved to win it. That’s all well and good, but let’s not understate this: Dublin were terrible. It was one of their worst performances in a long time. Now you may say, that was because of the weather, and the pressure they were under, and there may be an element of that for sure. But there were also things that can’t be so easily explained.
Can you imagine Dean Rock missing as many frees in the replay as he did Sunday? Whatever about guys tackling you when you’re in play, there’s no rationale for that. Or envisage Dublin hitting a similar number of wides? Or imagine a Dublin player not registering a score until the 31st minute? Or John McCarthy getting sent off again? Or Bernard Brogan, Paul Flynn, Kevin McManamon not scoring a single point between them? Because it’s one thing believing Mayo will be as good, it’s another imagining this Dublin team to be as bad.
But perhaps this is the new Mayo. And it could be that they just looked better than Dublin, because they ARE better than Dublin. And maybe they will bring the same intensity the next day and Dublin won’t be able to match it. And Andy Moran will bust the net with his goal chance, and they won’t put 2 balls into their own. And those 2 guys who are still alive from the 1951 team, might die of natural causes over the next couple of weeks. And I’m not saying I want that to happen. But if it did…
So lets go again on Saturday week and see. Because, god knows whatever happens, there’ll be some drama to it. You’ve our hearts broken Mayo. Sometimes I think you are our heart. How much more suffering can we take? And if you think I’m suffering badly from Mayo-itis, then imagine what it’s like for someone from the county!

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